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English Language & Literature: Search Tips

Search Tips

Search Tools

A well-constructed search string will help you search databases more effectively. This search string can use three helpful tools: Boolean operators, phrase searching, and truncation.

Boolean Operators

Operators: AND, OR, and NOT

Boolean operators are used to combine search terms efficiently and assign functions to these terms. Boolean operators include:

  • AND: Combining terms with AND means that all terms must be present. 
    • Shakespeare AND authorship: This search string will produce results that mention both Shakespeare and authorship, such as articles about theories regarding who wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare.
  • OR: Combining terms with OR means that at least one term must be present.
    • Shakespeare OR Hamlet: This search string will produce results that mention Shakespeare, Hamlet, or both. Your results would therefore include articles about the play 'Hamlet', even if the Shakespeare's name is not used in the fields you are searching.
  • NOT: Combining terms with NOT means that the term that follows NOT must be absent.
    • Shakespeare NOT Marlowe: This search will produce results that mention Shakespeare, but exclude any results that refer to Marlowe. This may help you limit your results to books and articles about other proposed authors for Shakespeare's works. 

Several of these operators can be used in the same search string. In this case, operators should be grouped together with brackets or separate lines of a search. This grouping is similar to the use of brackets in a math equation. 

  • ((Shakespeare OR Hamlet) NOT Marlowe) AND authorship

Phrase Searching

Operator: " "

With many databases, the default when multi-word search terms are used in a search string is to treat those words as separate terms combined with the operator AND. These terms may therefore show up separately, rather than as a single term, and in any order. To connect the words into a phrase, use quotation marks.

  • "A Midsummer Night's Dream" will produce search results that have those terms together, side-by-side.


Operator: *

Truncation produces results with different variants of a word. Rather than typing out each possible variant, cut off the word where the ending might change and add an asterisk.

  • author* will produce search results with terms such as author, authors, authorship, and authored.